This is not just a slogan! It is true. On Election Night, I had just finished a short live broadcast interview on QPTV. I had been invited to share my thoughts on this important election when we were poised to elect the first woman president!
Following the tradition of the women in the suffrage movement and in anticipation of this celebration of the election of the first woman president, I wore white. I gave a brief history of the efforts of the fight for the presidency from the first woman candidate, Victoria Woodhall, in 1872 when women did not even have the right to vote.
Susan B. Anthony and her sisters in the movement worked incessantly to bring equity to women. It took 100 years of struggle and great personal sacrifice, jailings and forced feeding of women who challenged the national police force to get the right to vote, which finally came in 1920!
After getting the right to vote, women assumed that the fight was won. They directed their energies to getting a good education. They formed many organizations to help their communities in the area of education, health and culture.
The two World Wars with their conscription of men to fight in the Armed forces created large vacancies in the factories and positions in government. The shortage opened opportunities for women to shatter traditional roles of what was women’s work. Women were encouraged, as a patriotic duty, to take their places in the workplace. After the war, they were fired and encouraged to go home and have children. But in government, their positions were protected and many stayed on in positions of leadership.
It wasn’t until the late 60s and early 70s that the second wave of women’s liberation produced profound changes. The civil rights movement of the black population woke women up to their own secondhand status and lack of equality. On the backs of the civil rights momentum, the women gave loud voices and actions to their calls for equality. They marched to Washington and in their own cities demanding equality in many areas of government, education, financial rights.
Their actions produced passage of laws prohibiting outright sex discrimination. In 1972, one of the most powerful laws—the Equal Rights Education Act in 1972—was passed, forbidding sex discrimination in any institution receiving federal funds. Most important and still controversial among many segments of our society, the Supreme Court ruling on Roe vs. Wade guaranteed women reproductive rights and freedom over their own bodies from government control.
In 1972, benefiting from the women’s movement for equality, a woman from Brooklyn, Shirley Chisholm, whom I had the privilege of knowing, ran for president of the United States. Although she had no chance of victory, Shirley Chisolm was a strong, dynamic black woman who made a very large crack in the glass ceiling and inspired many women, including myself, to run for elected office.
There were other women who followed her.
Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, the outspoken woman leader from Queens, challenged the status quo. Her studies on the “feminization of poverty” documented the large gap in earnings, 59 cents to $1, that men earned due to the stereotyping of women’s jobs and men’s jobs, which blocked women’s progress into high paying jobs and leadership positions in professional jobs.
In 1984, her role as the vice presidential candidate with Walter Mondale as president, although unsuccessful, marked a huge jump in women’s confidence and efforts to make inroads in government and private industry. That campaign, however, resulted in a strong backlash from men and many in our society that the nation was not ready for a woman for vice president. There was strong criticism of every phase of her life—her husband’s life and finances, how she dressed, her role as a mother—which was shocking. Questions and comments that had never been put to male candidates and their spouses were thrown at her. The presidential campaign failed, but Ferraro continued her role in public life as a strong personality and a defender and champion of women’s rights.
In 1995 in the United Nations Decade for Women conference in Beijing, Hillary Clinton, as first lady in the Clinton administration, was a galvanizing force for women all over the world. For the first time, issues of domestic violence, genital mutilation of girls and issues of equality in education and civil rights were being highlighted on a world stage. She declared that women’s rights were human rights and human rights were women’s rights. Thousands of women from all over the world attending the conference waited overnight in the pouring rain to hear her words and were inspired by them.
While the numbers of women as governors, congresswomen and senators did increase and some achieved high officer as secretary of state, it wasn’t until 2008 that a woman tried again to win the Oval Office.
Encouraged by the strong wave of support she received from women, with the end of the Bush years she felt emboldened to seek the presidency herself only to be defeated by a young black man, named Barack Obama. The glass ceiling received a lot of cracks but still held strong
The entry of Sarah Palin for vice president was still another strong crack in the ceiling. Many women will be surprised to hear her being given credit for achieving progress for women. However, she was a strong figure as a mother with a large family and even a disabled child, still going for the prize of being part of the presidential team. Her popularity in Alaska resulted in a very traditional blue collar worker, an enthusiastic Palin supporter, complaining that she was being asked questions about the care of her children but “no one is asking Joe Biden how he is taking care of his children while he is campaigning!” This surely was an advance in accepting women as political equals.
So now we have the heartbreak of another defeat. This time so tantalizingly close with Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote but technically not the Electoral College.
For feminists, minorities and people of color, immigrants and others Clinton’s loss is particularly bitter because Donald Trump, the victor, has made statements that affect them and theirs directly.
Why did women and the others vote for Trump? I believe that many in our country are racist and misogynistic. There has been a war on women. A steady stream of governors and legislators have passed bills to weaken Roe vs. Wade and made getting an abortion extremely difficult, especially for poor women.
But this is still the country that four and eight years ago voted for a black man. What happened? I believe the severe shock of the 2008 recession has not abated for many people in our country. If you have the opportunity to visit former factory towns, you will see all the dark and empty buildings. Many people lost their homes and good jobs and have never been able to get back to their once secure economic status
Job bills to improve infrastructure and create new opportunities have been stuck in a Congress that cannot move forward because of partisan attitudes.
Now the streets are filling with protests from people who are outraged with the outcome of the election and filled with fear for themselves and their country.
We hope that cool heads will prevail and that our elected leaders will work to heal wounds and give them hope.
In the meantime, Hillary Clinton told us in her concession speech, we have to keep fighting for our ideals and we can’t give up in discouragement.
The War on Women is real. We have to work together to preserve the rights we have won and move forward. It is time for another March on Washington Jan, 21 and a number of people are already planning to demonstrate our commitment and resolve to get the Equal Rights Amendment finally passed. We must let our legislators understand that we are ready to defend our hard-won victories and move ahead with the unfinished business of gaining equality for women in the United States.
In another step, the Center for the Women of New York opened our landmark, historic building at Ft. Totten to bidding by contractors this week to finally do the restoration.
This building will be dedicated to preserving the history of the women’s movement and accomplishments in all areas of society. It will also have a section devoted to helping women achieve economic equity and stability by helping them with career exploration and a conference center.
Join us. We need more help, more funds so that we will have a real source of pride for the community.
When we march for equality and equal opportunity on Jan. 21, we are especially hopeful to have the millennials take part and get the 3rd Wave to complete the peaceful revolution that we women of the 2nd Wave got started.
Ann Juliano Jawin,
Founder and Chair
Center for the Women of New York